Man, being stuck inside all day is boring. Maybe I should watch some sports. Wait, the NBA is indefinitely postponed? And the NHL? The MLB too? And golf, tennis, NASCAR and literally every other American sports league as well as many international sports leagues, not to mention the Olympics themselves. The NCAA has canceled its big March Madness basketball tournament along with all spring sports in all divisions.
“So what? It’s just a game; do something else with your life.” Yes, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Some people are struggling to get money, food and an education. Not to mention people are combating the actual virus itself, which is killing many and infecting more. Many people will lose or have already lost their livelihood due to the shutdown of society. And yet, the loss of sports is nothing to brush off. Even die-hard fans like myself probably didn’t realize just how much we rely on sports for entertainment, socialization and physical and mental health.
Let’s start with the impact of losing non-professional sports—those that the average person doesn’t watch, but participates in. I run for the Vassar cross country and track teams, and those teams are an integral part of my life. My social circle is built around them. It crushes me to not be able to see my friends everyday in practice. I already miss getting in a van with the boys and blasting a diverse playlist on the aux every Sunday as we drive to our off-campus long runs. I miss having dinner with all my teammates every night. I miss spending hours together at meets, cheering each other on and toeing the line alongside the people who have been training by my side all year. I still run on my own for physical and mental health benefits, but it just isn’t the same.
But just as devastating for me is the loss of competition itself. Athlete, train for months and even years in order to improve. This is especially significant for runners, because races allow us to palpably see our improvement. These races keep me going during the year. Even if my homework is piling up and I’m tired and the idea of doing a hard track workout seems like pulling a tooth out at the moment, I still grind through the workout and give it everything I’ve got. Why? Because the thrill of getting to test myself and compete with others on race day drives me.
For many athletes, competition is an outlet to release and relieve feelings of stress, anger, sadness and more. Whether you are on a high school team, college team, pro team or just playing pickup games with your friends, training and competing with others is a joyous—often even cathartic—experience. We can all still train during this shutdown, and I advise that all athletes continue to do so to protect their sanity. But it will be hard to self-motivate with the lack of a competition to look forward to, and we will be missing the human connection we normally get from playing and training with each other. I know this is tough to go through, and we need to find ways to stay connected with our friends and teammates and talk to each other about what we are going through.
In addition, we are faced with the cancellation/postponement of all professional sports for a while. Some hope that it will only be a couple of weeks until pro sports resume, but others fear it may be months. I am a big baseball fan, excited to see my World Series Champion Washington Nationals attempt to defend their title, and my brother and father are huge basketball fans, who root for the Lakers and love the ups-and-downs of March Madness. Now, all of a sudden, we don’t have them, and we feel it through our boredom and significantly quieter dinner conversations. We watch sports for entertainment, yes, but we also watch so that we can talk to our friends and family about it. We watch because it is a cathartic experience to root hard and see your dreams rise and drop through the performance of your favorite team.
The NFL owns Sundays, the World Series is as American as apple pie and we all lose our minds when someone hits a game winning buzzer beater in the NBA playoffs. Throughout my life, I have sat down in front of the TV every Sunday to watch the Steelers play football with my parents and brother. I watch because I enjoy the game, but also because it is a family event. We get excited and sit and talk about the game that brings us together. It is a family tradition passed down by my dad from when he was a kid. My dad took me to a few baseball games as a kid too and as I got older I became a superfan, persuading my whole family to become hardcore fans as well and now we watch practically every game together.
My experience is not unique. Sports fandom links us with the people we care about and allows us to bond over shared enjoyment. Sports inspire us as individuals too. When I was a kid, I would watch the Olympics and dream that one day I would win a gold medal. Even today, everytime I watch one of my Olympic heroes come barreling down the final straightaway of a race and crossing the finish line first, I feel the same excitement and awe as when I was a kid. I am no longer a kid and I realize that it is very unlikely that I will be going to the Olympics during my life, but those gold medal performances still inspire me. They still reveal the joy and wonder that comes with working your ass off to accomplish something you are passionate about, whether sports related or not. And now the Olympics, too, have been postponed. I think this quote from legendary track coach Bill Bowerman speaks to my points: “If you can find meaning in the kind of running you have to do to stay on this team; chances are you will be able to find meaning in another absurd past-time: life.” Replace running with your sport, and I think this quote rings true for all of us. Sports teach us lessons about teamwork, work ethic, perseverance and so much more. They give us the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Sports really are just a miniature version of life, evidenced further by how the coronavirus is essentially shutting down both sports and life as a whole right now. The one silver lining about going through these huge life changes is that we are not alone, everyone in this country and in many places throughout the world are going through the same thing. We can use the lessons sports have taught us to come together and do whatever it takes to stop this virus. It’s time to play some defense.
We are all very disappointed about losing sports for the near future, but let’s take this opportunity to appreciate the impact that sports have on our lives. And when we do finally get to go out and compete again, or watch the NBA playoffs, or be inspired by the Olympics after we have worked together to slow this virus, it will be that much sweeter. In the meantime, don’t stop playing. Go for a run or shoot some hoops, and remember, it is more than just a game.